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Hard work rewarded by Messi magic

If neutrals gasped at Lionel Messi's virtuoso display, Thierry Henry said it was FC Barcelona's hard work that laid the foundations for the "fiesta of football" that followed against VfB Stuttgart.

Hard work rewarded by Messi magic
Hard work rewarded by Messi magic ©UEFA.com

While neutral football lovers and FC Barcelona fans were stunned by the European champions' quality of play in their 4-0 demolition of VfB Stuttgart, it was typical that the Barcelona players wanted to focus on the intense hard work which underpinned their victory in Wednesday's UEFA Champions League first knockout round second leg.

If there was a keynote performance it came from the man who dominated last season's UEFA Champions League and scored the clinching goal in the final, Lionel Messi. With two goals, a hand in Barça's second and various mazy dribbles, the No10 enjoyed one of his great Camp Nou nights. But fellow striker Thierry Henry pointed out that attitude and rolled-up sleeves had made possible the fun that followed.

Henry told UEFA.com: "The game finished 4-0, but what we did really well was put Stuttgart under pressure from the start. When we work as hard as that, we can impose our football and make it hard for any rival to play. We know in Europe you simply cannot come out slowly and not start well.

"If you start well, you can go on to talk about the goals and the footballing fiesta, but the early work was the key. Hard work always pays off and we were hungry today. Now we have to do that every game. From the last eight in Europe onwards, every game is a final.

Former FC Internazionale Milano defender Maxwell compared the strength of Barcelona's display with that of his former club the night before against Chelsea FC. "Inter and Barça offer two different styles of football, but this week proved they can be equally effective," he told UEFA.com. "Inter notched a top victory in London but we did here, too."

Crucial though the basics may be, there was no escaping the fact Messi was mesmerising. Pedro Rodríguez, whose 22nd-minute goal had made the 3-1 aggregate lead an unbridgeable gap, added: "Even Messi has never before had so many games where he performed at such a high level. He scored two marvellous goals and against tough opponents. His first goal opened the game up for us and his second, our third, finished it off."

Everything went so well that even substitutes Zlatan Ibrahimović and Bojan Krkić combined for the fourth goal in a 5-1 aggregate success. All of which left Henry, with one eye on the quarter-final draw, to muse: "I don't know whether we just became the team to beat, but when we play with that attitude and mentality we are genuinely good. However, history tells you that football can do very strange things to you."

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